It’s more than ten years since I had the idea for the Plumen 001 lightbulb. It came like many epiphanies, like many other random thoughts, but this one was different because after its first appearance it came back again and again.
The team behind Plumen, like so many people are very concerned about how climate change will affect the world. But climate change isn’t a problem we can solve in traditional ways because its causes are so widespread and inherent to the way we live. To fix it you need to invent a new world, with a new preferences and a new set of rules. A world as beautiful as it is inspiring, where the objects and experiences we enjoy no longer come with such a heavy cost.
Ten years ago, energy efficient bulbs were not beautiful objects but we were encouraged to use them in places and spaces we’d otherwise lovingly designed and furnished. We saw a simple solution – take the efficient technology that was desperately needed and give it new life. Create something beautiful, to attract people to use efficient technology when otherwise they would have passed it by. Stylish but efficient light bulbs that would perform better and look better than traditional bulbs. The bulb is a symbol for new ideas and new thinking, so it should excite!
We needed to design a product. But a real, affordable product, that did a real job. In 2007 we began our journey with the compact fluorescent bulb. Born during the energy crisis, the standard swirl and radiator formats were designed in a rush and had barely changed since their inception decades before. This CFL technology combining argon gas, a mercury mist and phosphor coated tubes could be bent into a more artistic shape, but nobody had thought of doing that before.
We wanted to create a new and exciting form, a shape deliberately irregular and yet something that would also feel balanced and felt comfortable in any space or shade it occupied. To make it a viable product we needed a design that could be made using established production line processes. I started making sketches with pipe-cleaners, the perfect modelling tool for trying different forms and how they interacted. We then worked with designer Tom Stables, on early concepts and then with Samuel Wilkinson to develop the final model concepts and production designs, with regular trips by Plumen’s Michael-George to the factories to establish the production line. It took us more than two years to develop, but finally in September 2010 we launched the Plumen 001..
The launch was perfectly timed and the 001 design drew the attention of global press , as well as being recognised by numerous design awards including the Design of The Year from the Design Museum, London and a D&AD Black Pencil. Furthermore museums worldwide included the 001 in their permanent collections; MoMA, The V&A, The Design Museum, The Cooper-Hewitt and Art Institute of Chicago all recognising it as a significant contribution to design
We never intended for the 001 to be a rarefied item, but a practical-as-it-is-beautiful lighting product. More important to us was when the 001 started appearing in public spaces and homes all over the world. From hotels and restaurants, to apartments and airports. Start-ups like Airbnb and Pandora Radio installed the bulbs in their California offices, using them as a style statement that reflected their progressive values. The first ever WeWork co-working space on Grand Street in NYC was awash with Plumen’s lumens in 2012.
We didn’t initially intend for the bulb to be used as a standalone piece, so initially we sought out complementary shade designs for other designers and design brands. The housing of the electronics in the compact fluorescent added height that meant it was sometimes tricky to pair with smaller shades so we worked with partners like LightYears and Made.com to design shades for its unique proportions. These specific designs worked brilliantly, the ‘Plume’ shade we created with Made.com became the seventh most successful item in their history.
In 2010 compact fluorescent offered an 80% reduction in energy use, gave a good light and was the most economical option but recently momentum has gathered behind the pressure to reduce energy consumption. The lightbulb industry has seen rapid change to meet this need. It’s sparked an acceleration in performance innovations, new formats and increased quality and functionality.
We decided that the 001 needed to move on from CFL technology we had started with. We wanted to add dimmability and to try to achieve a longer lifetime and better reliability. We wanted to keep the 001’s unique form but at the time there wasn’t a way to recreate its unique shape with fixed filaments or standard led components. Finally flexible LED filaments started to be developed and as these components grew in length and stabilised their performance, we knew they were the solution for a reincarnated 001.
The biggest challenge was how we would diffuse the sharp line of light into a softer tube. While we’ve seen a huge surge in filament bulbs, the effect of sharper, brighter elements in these bulbs causes our retinas to contract and we therefore perceive spaces as darker or gloomier.
We carefully engineered the tubing that surrounds the flexible LED, to diffuse the light across the surface. The softened filament light reduces glare so the bulb’s unique shape can be enjoyed. In a dimmed state the frosted surface becomes ethereal and ghost-like, adding a completely new dimension to the experience. The prospect of dimmability, greater performance, reliability and light quality was incredibly exciting and we looked forward to the day that our classic design could be reincarnated in state of the art technology.
New technology also provided other benefits. Streamlined components allowed for a much more compact housing which in turn made way for a much sleeker form. The new proportions make the design more harmonious with a huge array of amazing shades and accessories from designers and lighting brands around the world. Material research led us to ceramic housing rather than the former plastic. A better material in every regard.
The Plumen 001 LED has the striking visual design of our original CFL, but this reincarnation is a complete overhaul that improves every aspect: the look, finish, proportions, performance, lifetime, compatibility, dimmability, efficiency, materiality and sustainability.
Now we have launched the new Plumen 001 LED bulb. Our bright light bulb idea has reinvented itself as not just a designer disrupter, but as a leading pioneer in lighting’s technological and design revolution. With our reincarnated classic out there in the world, we hope to remind people that there’s a beautiful sustainable future to be imagined, designed and enjoyed. And of course we’ll be imagining the most exciting designs of tomorrow, as the breakneck pace of technological change continues.
Nicolas Roope, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Plumen